WASHINGTON — The leader of the Reform movement called for a temporary moratorium on building in eastern Jerusalem.
In remarks delivered March 18 to the board of trustees of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie noted Reform’s commitment to Israel’s claim to Jerusalem and its right to build there.
“The Union for Reform Judaism, like most American Jewish organizations, supports a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty,” the URJ president said. “This means that we believe housing units constructed in Jerusalem by Israel are not settlements and they are not illegal. But a great many things that are legal are not prudent or wise, and building in Arab sections of Jerusalem in the current political climate is one of those things.”
Rabbi Yoffie recommended the moratorium as a means of easing tensions with the United States sparked this month when Israel announced a major building start in Jerusalem during a visit by U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden aimed at showing U.S.-Israel unity. The announcement also led the Palestinian Authority to pull back from planned renewed peace talks.
“Surely no opportunity to move toward an enduring settlement must be squandered,” he said. “I hope that the government of Israel will see the declaration of a temporary moratorium on building in east Jerusalem as a means of seizing the initiative, deepening her ties with America, rallying her allies around the world, and challenging the Palestinians and Arab world to come forward with confidence-building steps of their own.”
Among U.S. Jewish Jewish groups, Rabbi Yoffie and the Reform movement tack toward an aggressive U.S. posture in brokering Israeli-Arab peace, something its leaders have made clear in meetings with the Obama administration. However, Rabbi Yoffie also has assertively defended Israel from what he sees as unfair attacks in recent months, particularly against calls on Israel to face war crimes charges after last year’s Gaza war.
In related news, AIPAC’s president and a key donor to U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign urged the White House to keep differences with Israel private.
“Allies should work out their differences privately,” Lee Rosenberg said to a standing ovation in his inaugural speech as president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Speaking at AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington, Rosenberg described the tensions between Israel and the United States as “very unfortunate” and made it clear he believed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had done his part in apologizing for the announcement of construction plans for a Jewish neighbourhood in eastern Jerusalem during Biden’s visit this month.
“How friends disagree, how they react when missteps occur, that can determine the nature of the relationship,” Rosenberg said.
He suggested that the Obama administration should focus its pressure on the Palestinians to bring them back to peace talks.
“The reluctant partner in this peace process is not Israel’s elected leader, Prime Minister Netanyahu. The recalcitrant partner are the Palestinians and their leader: President Mahmoud Abbas,” he said.
Rosenberg, a Chicago-based venture capitalist, was a key-fundraiser for Obama’s presidential bid.